Prep football: Vigil pays tribute to fallen Hillcrest football coach Cazzie Brown

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) Bishop Brown, son of Cazzie Brown, says a few words at a candlelight vigil in honor of coach Cazzie Brown, at Hillcrest High School, Monday, August 28, 2017.

Midvale • Hillcrest High School junior Bishop Brown stepped out from his football teammates and faced the crowd gathered on the field to honor his recently deceased father, Hillcrest football coach Cazzie Brown, in a candlelight vigil Monday night.

“He’s been changing the world one step at a time,” Bishop Brown said, “and everybody that’s here helped him along the way. He came from a hard spot, and now look where he ended.”

When he finished speaking, the lights on the field went out. One candle lit the next, and fissures of light ran through the pitch-black field. 

(Rick Egan | The Salt Lake Tribune) THe Hillcrest football team lines up on the 50-yard line during a candlelight vigil in honor of coach Cazzie Brown, at Hillcrest High School, Monday, August 28, 2017.

Cazzie Brown passed away Sunday night after spending four days in the hospital. According to a family representative, Brown was brought to the emergency room Wednesday for complications with his thyroid. The doctors found that he had contracted meningitis, and later received a preliminary positive after being tested for West Nile virus. 

Due to a loss of blood flow to his brain, the representative said, Brown was put on life support Thursday. He was taken off life support around 8:30 p.m. Sunday, and he passed away at the University of Utah Medical Center around 9:20 p.m.

“I just want to say this on behalf of the family,” said Donell McNeal, Brown‘s former Idaho State University teammate, “One: the greater Salt Lake community has just been phenomenal. ... Two: The University of Utah, their medical ICU, the staff that’s there, I mean they were awesome. And so just a huge thank you to anyone who’s done anything.”

The large number of people who have reached out to help, McNeal said, reflects how much the community felt Brown gave to it. 

“I think [Cazzie‘s] greatest legacy ends up being the depth of the relationships that he built with people everywhere,” said McNeal.

Brown, who was 43, according to his Facebook page, is survived by his wife, Heather Bruce Brown, and three children. In addition to coaching and teaching weightlifting at Hillcrest, Cazzie Brown also taught at The McGillis School.

“It’s really hard to put into words what he’s meant [to this community]” Hillcrest athletic director John Olsen said on Monday. ”From the day he walked into Hillcrest, he made a difference. And I’ve told a lot of people this, but we needed Cazzie Brown in this school a lot more than he needed us. ... His presence was what drew kids to him. He had just a strong presence and he had a way to make everyone he interacted with or spoke with feel important and special, and that‘s a gift that’s just a God-given gift that he had.”

The beloved coach and teacher’s Facebook wall quickly filled up with tributes to him after his passing. 

“Cazzie left an indelible mark on the community. He was someone who got into coaching for the right reasons,” said Judge Memorial football coach James Cordova, a longtime friend of the Hillcrest coach. “ He wanted to help kids and helped so many. He was a friend, a father, a husband and a great coach. He will be greatly missed. He was one of a kind.”

Friends of the Browns started a GoFundMe page at www.GoFundMe.com/CoachBrown to support Cazzie Brown’s family.  

Hillcrest will dedicate its football game against Highland Friday to Brown. Fans will be asked to wear white in his honor.

A celebration of Brown’s life, open to the public, will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday on the the Hillcrest football field.

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